#metoo campaign reaches campuses: St Xavier’s college alumna raises flag

October 11, 2018

With India’s long overdue #metoo movement gaining momentum, with celebrated journalists, writers, directors, singers and actors being accused of varying degrees of sexual harassment, the campaign has now reached the door steps of universities. In first of such social media posts accusing sexual harassment on campus, a former student of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai has accused its women’s development cell (WDC) of handling her sexual harassment complaint against a fellow student “in a malicious way,” pointing at the reason why victims often do not approach internal committees.

Mangalore-based Kripa Fernandes, a violinist, who graduated from Xavier’s two years ago, wrote that she approached the cell in 2015 after suffering “physical, verbal and sexual abuse” at the hands of a fellow student, whom she was dating at the time. “He beat me on four occasions in public and would occasionally sexually harass me. After months of undergoing such torture, I finally told my friends and family and his family too. When his family turned against me, for my protection, I turned to the WDC,” she said in a Facebook post, which has turned viral.

However, the committee’s response was “malicious”. “Ever heard of the abuser’s statement been taken before the victim’s? Ever heard of the abuser’s witnesses being called upon but not the victim’s?” she wrote.

 “[I was asked] whether I was undergoing counselling and if I was on medication… if I had previous relationships.” Fernandes accused the panel members of gaslighting her. “They accused me of perpetrating violence against him when I raised my hand on him to defend myself. [A member] tried convincing me that my ex “really, really liked” me. [Another] tried proving that I had some sort of mental disorder and slut-shamed me. [A third member] tried getting me to not bother my ex but work around his schedule so that I don’t crash into him again.” The WDC even suggested her to leave home at 5 am, instead of the usual 6 am, to avoid the abuser.

The Xavier’s alumna also accused then principal Dr Frazer Mascarenhas of indulging in victim-blaming. “He accused me of not coming forward and sticking around in an abusive relationship. [According to him] It was completely my fault,” she said.

Mumbai Mirror reported that Dr Mascarenhas said the complaint was “taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by a competent, properly formed sexual harassment committee”. “Some of the complaints were found to be true and serious action was taken against the student, including suspending him from college and imposing other restrictions,” he said in an email interview to Mirror. He stressed on the need to find “other ways of solving such problems than a social media trial”. He asserted that had Fernandes reported the alleged further abuse she faced after the WDC’s action, the “offending” student would have been dismissed from college, the publication reported.

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